Rhythm in the Early Years
In this series we explore rhythm and how it changes over the years. In this post we begin with the early/preschool years (ages 1 - 4).
In the early years the focus can be on daily rhythm.
Young children do well to have their days look very similar and predictable. They thrive on repetition and don’t need a lot of spontaneity or change. This doesn’t mean their days are monotonous - far from it! A predictable daily rhythm provides a strong container for creative play and exploration. Within the container of rhythm young children feel safe, capable, eager to engage with their senses, and connected to their caregivers. They engage in imaginative play - and that play is grounded in the familiarity of their day to day lives and imitation of the adults around them.
Elements of the Day
A daily rhythm provides predictability for your child but also gives you a framework for what to do all day. It can be super helpful to know that you have all your bases covered, for the work you need to do in your home, for meeting your child’s developmental needs, and for fitting in time to do some of the things that you love to do.
What are the elements of the day for a healthy daily rhythm in the early years?
- Anchor routines for waking, meals, and going to bed
- Singing, rhythmic language, stories…..and also quiet
- Purposeful work - helping with the home and meals
- Movement - play (especially outside), walks, fingerplays
- Creative play inside and outside
- Modeling, sensory, or art play - especially the sandbox, homemade playdough, or baking bread
- Afternoon rest time - time for little one to rest and mama to do something just for her!
Elements of Rhythm
One of the defining characteristics of rhythm is that it has, well, a rhythmic quality to it. The goal is a predictable and peaceful flow to the day - not a rigid schedule. So you might have in mind “we have snack around 10:30” but each day you’re observing your child and noticing when it’s time to transition from playtime to snack. Or you might go outside after breakfast every day and in the summer you stay out for hours but in the winter it’s just a short walk around the block and then back inside to play.
Part of what helps a day to feel rhythmic is that there’s a balance of more expansive, active time (out-breath) and more quiet, inward, or focused time (in-breath). For the young child, outside play, walks, circle time, social time, outings away from home are all out-breath activities. And meals, quiet indoor play, playdough, storytime, and watercolor painting could be in-breath activities. There aren’t hard and fast rules about which is which so just observe your child to get a feeling for this. When you have a sense of the in-breaths and out-breaths of your day, you can alternate them for a feeling of balance and rhythm.
Elements of the Week
A great place to start with weekly rhythm in the early years is a rhythm for your work in the home. For example, maybe Mondays are vacuuming days, Tuesdays you mop the kitchen floor, Wednesdays you clean the bathrooms, Thursdays are vacuuming again, and Fridays are for decluttering and running errands. Any rhythm that helps you get these things done without having to think about it is great, and the more you can include your child the better. You can hold the space for this weekly rhythm by setting aside time daily for the work of the home. If you get in this habit now you will be sooooooo glad you did when things get very busy in the homeschooling years!
So a weekly rhythm in the early years is mostly about what mama needs to get done each week. There might be other things you want to happen regularly such as time with friends or your homeschooling community, a weekly hike or visit to the library or a nearby pond, etc. A simple weekly rhythm in the early years might be something like this: Tuesday morning playgroup, Thursday morning meet friends at the park, Sundays are at Grandma’s house. I would err on the side of fewer activities at this age (especially anything that takes you away from home, is too irregular, or overstimulating for your child) and keep the focus on daily rhythm. A simple daily rhythm is enough for little ones, and we’ll go over weekly rhythm more in next week’s post on the kindergarten years!
A Note on Play
It’s important to carve out time in the day for young children to play. Super important. But for the young child, imaginative play is happening all day long as they weave in and out of other activities. One of the best ways to nurture creative play in the early years is to hold the space by calmly going about your own activities, especially ones that your child can imitate, or that create a peaceful atmosphere in the home (handwork, housework, cooking, gardening, etc. all hold the space for play…..getting on the computer does not!). So although your child needs ample time to play in his daily rhythm, you don’t need to be playing that whole time. You can go about your work and let your child weave in and out of interacting with you, helping you, and going off to play. See this post for more on holding the space while your child plays.
I also want to point out that structured activities such as library storytime, lessons, or classes are not usually playtime. These might be fine in small doses depending on your child and the way the activity is run, but they don’t fulfill a child’s need for creative open-ended play. If they fulfill your need for social and relationship-building time that’s no small thing and I encourage you to get your needs met too - just be clear about the goal of an activity and find the right balance for your family!
Putting it all together
Your daily rhythm will be unique to your family. If you’re just getting started, choose just a small number of elements of the day to bring into rhythm. Bedtime is often a great place to start. Here’s one example of a daily rhythm for the early years that includes all the elements of the day for the young child:
- Morning Routine and Breakfast
- House Blessing/Cleaning
- Outside Play/Neighborhood Walk
- Circle - nursery rhymes, fingerplays, songs
- Inside Play - mama is doing laundry, learning to knit, her own projects, etc.
- Kitchen Time - help mama prep dinner
- Storytime - prepare for nap, light a candle, tell a story
- Nap or Rest Time
- Outside Play and Snack
- Art or Playdough - at the table while mama cooks dinner
- Bedtime Routine - bath, story, lullaby